Entries in Tanzania (13)


A Schnitzelbahn History: the Tanzania honeymoon safari

We've received some feedback from readers that we should add "index" pages for specific content.
An index page is better than the Categories ("Navigation" on the right side of this page) because
you don't have to scroll through blog entries you've already seen -- intead, just go to the entry you want.


So, here is a brief index of our blog entries about parks on the northern circuit in Tanzania (plus Mafia Island):

Arusha National Park  (Day 1,  Day 2)

- Arrival and overnight at Karama Lodge

- Morning in the Park:  baboon babies, walk across the plain, a small waterfall, and lots of giraffes

- Afternoon in the Park:  canoeing on an alkaline lake, flamingos, and black & white colobus monkeys


Lake Manyara National Park  (Day 3)

- Morning in the Park:  more baboon babies, impala, dik dik, zebra, and lots of elephants

- Afternoon in the Park:  vervet monkeys with babies, baboons, golden weaver, plus the Rhotia Valley


Ngorongoro Crater the Ngorongoro Conservation Area  (Day 4)

- Morning in the Crater:  zebras, hyena, wildebeast, warthogs and babies, ostrich, black rhino, eland,
  bush buck, Thompson's gazelle, birds (ibis, stork, and kori bustard), elephants, and lounging lions!  

- Afternoon in the Crater:  yellow-billed kites, weavers and pelicans, elephant, water buffalo,
  ostriches in a mating dance, warthog babies, lions, and the Rhotia Valley Children's Home! 


Serengeti National Park - Walking Safari  (Day 5,  Day 6,  Day 7)

- Drive into Serengeti N.P.:   saw lions mating (!), and an uncountable number of wildebeast in the herd

- Drive to the Walking Safari Camp:  agama lizards, superb starlings, marabou stork, and our campsite
  on the banks of the Orangi River in the central Serengeti (with recent hippo tracks near our tent!) 

- Info about the designated "wilderness area" for walking safari:  the camp, the surrounding landscape, etc.

- First day (morning walk):  lots of animal tracks, water buffalo (one alive, one just a skull), and an impala

- First day (afternoon walk):  an antlion, two jackals, and a mongoose family in an abandoned termite mound

- Second day (morning walk):  a klipspringer, reedbuck, giraffes, topi... and a black-necked spitting cobra!

- Second day (afternoon walk):  a short trek through the larger kopjes and rainy goodbye to the mobile camp


Serengeti National Parl - Game Drives  (Day 8,  Day 9,  Day 10)

- Drive from walking camp to the game-drive camp:  leopard tortise, herd (or pod) of hippos, impala, giraffes,
a silverbird and some weavers, a leopard (finally!), vultures, mongooses, water buffalo, and a lion near camp

- Info about our "special campsite":  lodging options in Serengeti National Park, our tent camp in the shadows of one of the Moru Kopjes, baboons and giraffes at breakfast, light painting at night, and a landscape view with rainbows.

- First Day (morning game drive):  hyrax, lion perched on a kopje, bearded woodpeckers, and lots of elephants

- First Day (afternoon game drive):  a sensational view, with video, of a pride of lions gathering at dusk.

- Second Day (morning game drive):  leopard in a tree, lion in a tree, many animals feeding (giraffe, vervet monkeys, warthog), many birds (secretary bird, pearl spotted owlet, gray hornbill, lilac breasted roller, lovebirds). 

- Second Day (afternoon game drive):  coming soon


Mafia Island (Chloe Island)

- First Day:  coming soon

- Second Day:  coming soon

- Third Day:  coming soon

- Fourth Day:  coming soon

- Fifth Day:  coming soon


It was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure -- thanks to friends and family that gave wedding gifts to make it possible.




Tanzania Holiday 14: Serengeti Walking Safari Day 2 - afternoon

With mixed emotions, we departed this afternoon on our final "game walk" of the 2-day Serengeti walking safari.
We really enjoyed the camp on the Orangi River and seeing the Serengeti on foot, but were also eager to see some big game up close -- which doesn't really happen while hiking.

We would make this walk with only two of our three guides.  Prim (our leader) had a bit of a headache, so Park Ranger Daniel and Guide-in-Training Mark led the way.  Mark suggested that we head into an area of denser kopjes, because leopards live there and might start to become active this time of day.

It would be a longshot to see a leopard on foot, because they don't want to be seen and sense us from far away.
But were were rewarded right away with some spectacular storm clouds and kopjes:

This had some of the most up & down walking we experienced, over rolling rocky hills with scattered trees:

That's Mark and Frau A in the above photo.  Below, Daniel forges his own way across the landscape:

On occasion, one of the guides would go ahead to check an area, then we would follow behind:

We strode up a long slope...

... and came to a great viewpoint looking over a broad plain dense with acacia trees:

Just down the hill was a river of stones.  The storm clouds would darken and lighten as winds changed:

Mark, ever the budding photographer, offered to take our photo with the "endless plain" in the background:

From here we started circling back towards camp.  We should be there just before sundown.

We hadn't seen a leopard, but we were still all smiles as the countryside is lovely and (ironically) peaceful:

We stayed quiet on the way back, giving us the best chance to spot a leopard...

...but did interrupt the silence with shutter clicks once in a while:

We left the hilly area and said goodbye to the kopjes here (and their unfortunately hidden inhabitants).
So no leopard or any big cat spotted on our walks, but that was expected.   The walking safari was GREAT.

As we arrived back at camp, the sun was sinking lower in the sky - a beautiful scene...

...that ended with a beautiful sunset:


After dinner we crashed in our tent, and started looking forward to the drive to our next camp tomorrow,
where we would have three days (!) of game drives with Prim... and celebrate Christmas Eve & Christmas too.

After the sun had slipped under the horizon, the rains came and put us to sleep:

And finally... this was our honeymoon.  For the wedding, instead of registering for physical gifts (e.g., china, silverware, etc.), we registered different parts of this Tanzanian safari.  For this blog post, we wish to heartfully thank all our family and friends who generously helped us realize our dream of walking in the Serengeti!


Tanzania Holiday 13: Serengeti Walking Safari Day 2 - Morning

For our "walking safari", we had only 2 days scheduled.  So walking up this morning, we knew it was our last.
(links to the first day's walks are here:  morning and afternoon)  At least we had more game drives to come...

For the morning walk on Day 2, we again started early-ish (breakfast at 07:30, leave around 08:00).
This time we would be heading north, which was supposed to have more hills and forest than Day 1:


Mark took the lead this time, rather than Prim who usually had the front position:

Right away, we saw some zebras near the riverbed.  They had already seen us and were retreating:

Daniel, the park ranger, spotted the small klipspringer on top of a kopje too!  He disappeared quickly though:

This next photo intends to give a better perspective of exactly how far away the animals stayed from us.
Remember the zebras from the first photo?  Two are running up the bank, and a third behind.  Way out there!

Most of the wildlife photos were taken with a 100mm-300mm zoom lens, with a crop factor 2x camera.
This means that in 35mm/full frame angle of view, it is a 200mm-600mm lens.  Pics are cropped too!

The zebras and klipspringer were gone, so we again turned our attention to the rocky Orangi riverbed: 

The landscape was lovely too, not just the animals... so the normal lenses weren't completely ignored:

Walking along the riverbank, we continued to look into the hills for more animals.
We spotted a bohor reedbuck -- like the others, very cautious and keeping far away:

Mark wanted to try our cameras, so I handed him mine & he lined us up in the riverbed for some photos:

That's Prim (main guide) in front, then Herr J, Frau A, and Daniel (Serengeti National Park ranger) in the back:

This was the view as we walked along the sandy bottom of the Orangi River.  The trees here have yellowish bark. Natives used to think they caused Yellow Fever... but it's really the mosquitos who transmit the virus:

We finally turned out of the riverbed, and headed up one of the nearby hills.  When we reached the hilltop,
we could look back and see the winding river, and behind it a vast plain with scattered acacia trees:

Here's a zoomed-out view of the acacia forest, with the Orangi River in the foreground:

We continued to the other side of the hill, with more scrubby/brushy terrain.  Two ostriches near the tree:

A few times we walked by poachers' old wire traps (no photo).  Our guides made sure they were harmless.
This area also has had its share of gold hunters (also outlawed now), and there are old mine entrances too. 

We spotted this giraffe the next hill over...

... but he wasn't interested in sticking around and posing for photos:

But, he did lead us to his friend (also, notice the antelope on the upper right of the picture)...

... and then we found the whole herd.  All of them using their height to spy on us from afar:

All other animals in this area watch the giraffes for signs.  These water buffalo already were jogging away:

After the animals had cleared out, we went back to traversing the plain:

Frau A always asks me to take a photo with the Olympus "Dramatic Tone" art filter, just for fun:

We stopped for a minute as the guides explained a little more about this tree to us (below).  It's called
acacia drepanolobium, or, the whistling thorn.  As usual, it is easier to let Wikipedia give the interesting details:

"The base of its thorns is bulbous...  These swollen thorns are naturally hollow and occupied by any one of several symbiotic ant species. The common name of the plant is derived from the observation that when wind blows over bulbous thorns in which ants have made entry/exit holes, they create a whistling noise.

Like other acacias, Whistling Thorns have leaves that contain tannins, which are thought to serve a deterrents to herbivory.  In addition, Whistling thorn acacias are myrmecophytes that have formed a mutualistic relationship with some species of ants. In exchange for shelter in the bulbous thorns (domatia) and nectar secretions, these ants appear to defend the tree against herbivores, such as elephants and giraffes, as well as herbivorous insects."


Our guides even demonstrated this behaviour:  they agitated some branches, and the ants came right out.
The ants were looking for the source of the disturbance, and to attack it.  A very interesting live demo!

Interestingly, a while later, we saw a group of park rangers drive by on some dirt tracks some ways away.
Daniel explained that they will look for poachers or illegal activities, help safari groups, etc: 

As usual, we would stop for some water and a snack at intervals.  Frau A found a natural bench for a rest:

Even on breaks, she was alert to her surroundings and found things to photograph...

... in this case it was a large dragonfly that stayed perched on a nearby branch for a while:

Our guides then pointed out a few more insects - here, a locust:

And here, another dung beetle, but one who has stopped rolling and started digging to bury it's dung ball:

But it wasn't yet the end of the big game for today!  A topi observes us from the taller grass:

Here are Daniel, Frau A, and Prim.  Frau A with one of her cameras in action:

At this point, we had turned back and started heading back in the direction of camp:

There was a lof of clay in the earth here -- with an unusual reddish hue that we had not seen before:

At one point across the fields, we saw the entire topi herd watching us from the far hillside:

They didn't like the looks of us, and started moving quickly up the hill and away from the humans:

One more look at the Serengeti landscape...

... and then following Mark back "home":

But wait!  There's more!  We got a surprise on the way back to camp - one of the coolest on the trip.

Here's the story:  Mark was in the lead, and he knew we were excited to photograph any wildlife we could.
At one point he yelled "Come here!" so I quickly jogged forward.  Sliding through the grass was a black snake, maybe 1m long.  He said "it's a cobra - get your camera ready".  And then he stomped his foot on the ground...

What does a cobra do when feeling threatened?  It faces you, rears up and flares its neck of course.

This is where it gets funny.  I was a little shocked, and didn't get a photo in the split second we had.
So what does Mark do?  He has us follow it in the grass, asks if I'm ready, and stomps his foot again.

I got a few photos that time!  Now that is what I call customer service - thank you Mark!!!

Now I would not normally be one to encourage provoking a cobra, but we're so glad Mark did just that.
We also learned:  it pays to have a young, recent-graduate, fearless guide-in-training on the tour with you! 

The other interesting thing:  when we got home, we had to look up exactly the kind of snake it was.  It was not really large (neither long, at 1m, nor that wide around) - so presumably it was a juvenile we had "asked to pose for us".

Based on the photo, we think it was a naja nigricollis -- commonly known as a black-necked spitting cobra.
I guess I was fortunate to stick my camera so close, when its venom can cause permanent blindness.  

Now THAT was a real Serengeti walking safari experience!  It was one of the really unique events of the trip.

And finally... this was our honeymoon.  For the wedding, instead of registering for physical gifts (e.g., china, silverware, etc.), we registered different parts of this Tanzanian safari.  For this blog post, we wish to heartfully thank:
   -  Edie C, for the guided walk.  This day had the best big game viewing so far.  THANK YOU!
   -  Amie and Kevin H, for the guided walk.  How about that black-necked cobra!  THANK YOU!
   -  Judy and Ron H, for the camping overnight.  Isn't the landscape fantastic?  THANK YOU!
   -  Ronnie and Jan M, for the camping overnight.  After this experience, we didn't want it to end.  THANK YOU!

We hope our friends and family enjoy the pictures and story as much as we did living it. 


Tanzania Holiday 11: Serengeti Walking Safari Day 1 - Afternoon

At this point on our safari, we had driven in to Serengeti National Park to a camp off-road.  In this designated "wilderness area", our guides would take us on walks through plain and brush, to see the Serengeti on foot:

Source: tanzaniawildlifesafaris.com

This was the first of two days for walking.  We already had our morning hike, with hippo tracks, hyena tracks, a water buffalo (both live and a skull on the ground), and a termite mound.  This post is about the afternoon on Day 1:

After lunch and a rest, we met again on the banks of the Orangi River.  This is Daniel, our Park Ranger:

Our main guide Prim took the lead.  He always likes to look at recent animal tracks in the damp riverbed:

Frau A followed Prim, and I was behind her.  It was becoming a bit cloudier with a risk of rain.
December is the short rainy season in Tanzania, and it often rained a bit in the evenings when we were there. 

We came to another place in the riverbed where tracks showed that hippos recently passed by (last 24 hrs):

The river was not full enough to flow, but rain could change that at any moment.  The guides were alert.

Prim made sure we got to see an antlion up close.  It's one of the "little five" !

Here is a more technical photo of an antlion, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Source: Wikipedia (Jonathan Numer)

Prim showed us an antlion's trap.  He tried putting bugs in there to see an antlion attack, but no luck:

However, there are plenty of videos on the web that show an antlion attack better than we ever could:

Now late in the afternoon, the weather appeared somewhat inconsistent across the horizon.
In the west (looking into the sun), there were threatening clouds...

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

...off in the distance, an acacia forest glowed green with hazy clouds overhead...

...but to the east (sun at our backs) skies were pretty clear with the brush a little drier & more brown.  Interesting.

Our guides -- and the park ranger -- were always on the lookout for animals (even though they avoid humans).
Just after the halfway point in the walk, they hit the jackpot.   The sun was at our backs, and the wind in our faces.  Therefore, for animals walking towards us, we would be downwind and partially shielded by the sun's glare.

Fortunately, Prim spotted the animals before they detected us.  Two jackals walking right at us, 100m away.
Jackals are very skittish, and Prim explained later that this was a rare occurance, to see them so closely.

The guides motioned us to be as quiet as possible & to squat down - to remain undetected as long as possible.
Frau A and I tried photos and video, but it was tough with a lot of grass and bushes in the way.
I got this photo when the jackals were first spotted, and still walking closer towards our position: 

The video and other pics are not great, but I was able to cherry-pick some still frames from the video file:

This was their closest point, and the moment when the leading jackal discovered us.  Then they were gone:

That was awesome!  It really felt like you were THERE.  Hiding in the bush; no zoo, no jeep, just us & nature.
It doesn't have the WOW factor of the big game, but this is the unique experience we were hoping for. 

(We think these are the smaller black-backed jackal, also called the silver-backed jackal.)

From here we turned across a rocky plain and continued in the direction of camp:

I snapped a couple of nice silhouette-style photos of Prim as we skirted over larger piles of rocks:

As we took a moment to take in water, we had our guides pose for a photo (Prim on left, Mark right):

On our morning walk we saw termite mounds, but they were inactive and the new owners stayed out of sight.
This one was abandoned too, but taken over by a mongoose family who took a second to check us out from afar!

We saw three or four of the family appear, but most were gone in a flash.  This one was more patient.
Of course, I cannot think of "mongoose" without remembering Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.  (do kids still watch that?)

The clouds continued to blossom here and there, but the rain stayed away to the west:

Some parts of the riverbed had no water at all -- still greener than everywhere else, but no pools here:

I captured Frau A once when she turned around.  It's good practice for that quick Serengeti wildlife.  ;)

As soon as we crested the next bank...

...we were on the home stretch.  The dining tent is in the background, just to the right of Prim.
Mark is swatting away tse-tse flies, that were a bit of a bother around the acacia trees (got a few bites). 

From here it's back to the tents to wash up a bit, and start thinking about dinner:

Here's "our" section of the Orangi river, with the sandy "newspaper" that Prim likes to read...  if it rains overnight, then tomorrow we will have a fresh record of the animals that came so close to our tent during the night!

It was a little slow going at the end - the light was really nice, so I stopped a lot to take photos:

The camp staff (two of them) already had a fire going and were starting on dinner:

Across the riverbank, on the other side of the camp, a small herd of wildebeest were gathering.
They would be staying close together during the night, when the predators would be after them: 

Yes, that night while lying in the tent, we heard lion roars, leopard roars, and hyena barks - not too far away.
The "bathroom" tent was a few meters away, and it made the trip there (with just a flashlight) interesting! 

The clouds we saw earlier gave us a nice effect over the mess tent as the sun was setting:

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

Just like the evening before, we had a fire going near the meal tent and headed there to eat & relax:

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

After the sun was gone, and before heading to bed, we tried some photos with a light painting technique: 

Not bad for the first time, and by a couple of hackers!  We were inspired to try by this light painting video:

By then it was time to crash.  We were tired -- a good tired, if you know what I mean.
It did rain again that evening, but just a soft rain.  The lightening stayed in the distance.
We had another full day (two walks) to look forward to tomorrow, and hope they would be just as fun.

And finally... this was our honeymoon.  For the wedding, instead of registering for physical gifts (e.g., china, silverware, etc.), we registered different parts of this Tanzanian safari.  For this blog post, we wish to heartfully thank:
   -  Edie C, for the guided walk.  You can see how much we learned with our guides.  THANK YOU!
   -  Amie and Kevin H, for the guided walk.  The jackals were amazing!.  THANK YOU!
   -  Judy and Ron H, for the camping overnight.  What a great view of the Serengeti.  THANK YOU!
   -  Ronnie and Jan M, for the camping overnight.  It was dry, comfortable, (and great beer).  THANK YOU!

We hope our friends and family enjoy the pictures and story as much as we did living it. 


Tanzania Holiday 10: Serengeti Walking Safari Day 1 - Morning

In the previous blog post from our Tanzanian safari holiday, we had spent the day driving through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and into Serengeti National Park.  Our destination was a campsite in the designated "wilderness area" -- very off-road, and select spots where approved guides (together with a Park ranger) can take you on guided walks in the Serengeti.  Much different than the typical game drives in a jeep.

The campsite was along the Orangi river, center-east in the Park (see map below):

Source: tanzaniawildlifesafaris.com

The Orangi river winds its way west, joining others and eventually landing in Lake Victoria.  At the point of our campsite the river actually ran north-to-south for a few hundred meters.  The camp layout looked roughly like the picture below.  We would have two days of guided walks, with a morning & afternoon hike each day (not to scale!):

The walks came together something like a clover -- each one exploring a different area away from camp, and lasting about 4-5 hours (including brief rests).  Our guides "warned" us about a few things before we got started:

First, the guides stressed that animal viewing would be much less intimate than in a Land Cruiser.  The animals see you as part of a harmless jeep on the road, but on foot we are human and are avoided as much as possible (and they can smell and hear us much before we could see them).  We would get to see the trees, plants/flowers, and insects first hand, but we should not expect big game too close.

Second, there are some pitfalls to be prepared for.  Insects sting or bite, some plants cause skin problems, and in rare cases an animal will get aggressive rather than running away.  We jokingly asked "When was the last time you had to use your gun because of a charging water buffalo?".  Our guide Prim answered straight-faced:  "last week".
He wasn't joking.  He explained that a shot in the air usually sends animals the other way.  Their group came around a large rock and surprised it, so it charged.  Interesting...

We started the morning walk on Day 1 around 08:00 (after breakfast at 07:30).  Because it was the first one, I asked the others to pose for a photo.  From left to right we have:

- Prim, our main guide from Wayo Africa
- Frau A, with her Nikon DSLR ready to fire
- Mark, a recent graduate from a wildlife university and guide-in-training at Wayo, and
- Daniel, a park ranger in Serengeti National Park 

We started the walk in the Orangi riverbed, reading what Prim calls the "morning newspaper".  December is the short wet season in Tanzania.  Evenings often bring a short rain and get some water flowing (the river was mostly still pools at this time) which makes recent animal tracks easy to see.

It was interesting to see how many animals came to drink the prior evening - 30 meters from where we slept!

We continued to follow the riverbed...

...then headed off into the brush a bit (but often came back to the riverside throughout the walk):

At a point further along the river was another large still pool to investigate:

This time Mark showed us some of the recent visitors here:

The most interesting were pawprints from a large hyena - you can see the imprints below:

Further along in the brush we came across a buffalo skull...

...Mark picked it up and we got Frau A to pose with it!

The next section along the river was not as flat -- it had kopjes (rock formations) going up to the right:

A bit ahead, we spotted a large water buffalo -- see him in the trees?

This was nice, but actually presented a bit of a problem.  The water buffalo seemed to be following the river... just like we were.  Prim was trying to keep track of it.  But we ran into a higher kopje, and the water buffalo was probably on the other side, out of view.

In the video below, here's what happened:  we are walking quietly, to listen for the buffalo.  At the 20 second point, you hear Prim voice "psst" -- a signal that we need to follow him.  We crept up the kopje, and then Prim went forward alone (gun somewhat ready) to see where the buffalo was.

What you don't see in the video (it happened after I stopped recording) is that Prim *did* flush the buffalo out, and it thundered away about 20m from us, ground shaking.  It didn't charge or present a danger, but things might have gotten interesting had we surprised it up close.  But that was Prim's job.

After that exciting moment, we continued along the riverbed:

This time, Mark offered to take the group photo (left to right:  Daniel, Frau A, Herr J, and Prim):

The next brief stop was at a good-sized termite mound (they can get a lot larger, in proportion to the amount of water in the earth below, as our guides informed us):

It was almost as tall as Frau A:

In a nearby tree, we spotted a dragonfly posing for a photo:

Around 11:30, the sun was getting punishingly fierce.  We found a tree for shade and took a break for lunch.  We were situated on a kopje with a decent view of the surrounding plain and its acacia trees:

The video below is just a quick pan, left to right, to show the view from our perch above the Serengeti:

When we got underway again, it was back down to the riverbed.

As we saw in the sand near our campsite, there were hippo tracks in the damp soil here:

From here, we cut across the plain, starting to circle back towards camp:

We would consistently pause in the shade for some water.  Daniel agreed to a photo here:

We got Mark in action, when he took the lead.  The would rotate positions between them on the hike.

We came across an abandoned termite mound that another animal had made its home.  The guides guessed that it was a warthog family, but they get dangerous if cornered so we didn't investigate further:

The weather was great, but hot!

Unfortunately, the acacia trees are a favorite home of tse-tse flies, but they didn't bite too much:

We did see another "large" animal - a lone impala in the trees.  This photo was taken with a 580mm (35mm equivalent) focal length, so it gives you an idea of how far away the animals were that we could spot:

As soon as it saw us, it took off and was out of sight:

We saw a number of dung beetles, working tirelessly to roll their find to the right location to bury it:

We eventually made it back to camp, and were rewarded with some Serengeti beer and a light lunch:

It was nice to view the river from the mess tent, now that we had explored it a bit:

There were some other things that don't have an accompanying photo, but made the experience more real - for example, I felt a "rock" underfoot and looked down to see that I was stepping on a zebra skull!  It was a very different experience than the game drives was had previously in Arusha / Manyara / Ngorongoro... just what we wanted!

And finally... this was our honeymoon.  For the wedding, instead of registering for physical gifts (e.g., china, silverware, etc.), we registered different parts of this Tanzanian safari.  For this blog post, we wish to heartfully thank:
   -  Edie C, for the guided walk.  Just the unique experience we were looking for.  THANK YOU!
   -  Amie and Kevin H, for the guided walk.  Frau A was smiling ear-to-ear the whole time.  THANK YOU!
   -  Judy and Ron H, for the camping overnight.  It was so cool to hear the lions roar at night.  THANK YOU!
   -  Ronnie and Jan M, for the camping overnight.  The view from the tent was extraordinary.  THANK YOU!

We hope our friends and family enjoy the pictures and story as much as we did living it. 


Tanzania Holiday 9: Drive to Camp for Serengeti Walking Safari

In the first half of our travel day into Serengeti NP, we were incredibly lucky to see lions mating - a great start!
On the map below:  we had entered the park on the southeast main road, but not yet reached Naabi Hill Gate.

In this blog post, we'll complete the travel day into Serengeti NP:  starting at Naabi Hill Gate where we register with the park and pause for lunch.  Then, we continue north along the main road, take the right fork at Banagi, and finally go completely off-road into a "wilderness zone" and our "light mobile camp" on the banks of the Orangi River.

Source: tanzaniawildlifesafaris.com

We pulled off at Naabi hill to register in the park and take a lunch break.  The land cruisers were already lined up:

Naabi Hill has picnic tables and the park office, but the most appealing aspect is the kopje.
From the parking lot there is a walking path to the top (only a few minutes -- it's not exceedingly tall):

It's not that tall, but because the Serengeti is so flat, the Naabi Hill kopje has an impressive view.
We are looking south from here -- on the photo's left is the main road, on which we just drove into the park:

It was nice to stretch our legs, and Frau A was having fun taking photographs.

Here's a better picture of the road, looking back from where we came, disappearing across the "endless plain".

Next shot:  a panorama will open if you click on it, but beware -- it's 14+ MB in size.

If you remember the prior blog post, we drove through the wildebeest herd.  This is just the far edge of it!

Again, to try and show the sheer scale of the herd (at least what we could see from here) we took video.
I twisted as far as I could to do a pan from left to right across the horizon... black dots as far as the eye can see. 

Zooming far into the scene we found vultures perched on top of a tree:

But we didn't need telephoto for everything.  Agama lizards were very active on the rocks at our feet:

It's the males that develop these flashy colors.  (Females and juveniles stay with a brownish color.)

Another eyecatcher here was the superb starling.  There were many of them around the picnic tables... or anywhere that scraps of food could be found.  Signs prohibit feeding animals, and trash can lids are extra solid.
Regardless, humans always create free meals.  These birds won't go hungry unless they overpopulate.  

Their coloring is quite remarkable.  They are not too afraid of people and would come relatively close.

A trucker was eating in his cab to avoid harassment.  This starling was just waiting beneath his window:

Another scavenger was much larger... and as ugly as the superb starling is pretty.  This is a marabou stork.
It is technically a wading bird, but has adapted to live near humans (or, more precisely, near human waste). 

This is a large bird!  Wikipedia says that marabou storks can get up to 150 cm (60 in) tall and 9 kg (20 lb).
This particular one was probably one meter tall (three+ feet).  He wandered around the parking lot all day. 

The marabou stork is sometimes called the "undertaker bird" because of its "deathly" appearance. 

We spent more than an hour at Naabi Hill, then got back on the road, heading north again.
From the wide open plains, the terrain changed a bit - with trees and hills more commonplace. 

At some point, probably around Banagi and the turnoff right going northeast, we stopped at a small village.
Here, we picked up two more people:  our park ranger Daniel, and a guide-in-training Mark.  So Frau A and I had our guide Prim, plus two other Serengeti experts - all with a rifle (the back of the Land Cruiser looked Texas-like)!

In order to camp in a wilderness zone and tour the Serengeti on foot, it is required to have a park ranger with you. That was Daniel.  Mark was a recent graduate of one of Tanzania's wildlife management colleges, and recently joined the same tour company as Prim.  It was a great mix of people - we were happy to have them along!

From left to right: Prim (our guide), Frau A, Mark (guide trainee), and Daniel (Serengeti NP park ranger)

But we're getting ahead our ourselves... that photo is already at the camp site.  We're not there quite yet...
After we took the right turn at Banagi, trees really started to have a stronger impact on the landscape. 

Perhaps an hour after picking up Mark and Daniel, we turned off the main road completely - just tire tracks.
This was leading us into the designated "wilderness area", where walking safaris are permitted
(although only around 3 companies are licensed to do this, of the 150+ that give driving safaris).

The trees are primarily acacia... which unfortunately is the favorite home of the tsetse fly.  Swarms of them.
The tsetse bite -- living off the blood of animals.  They are also the main carriers of African sleeping sickness.
The odds of contracting the disease were very low.  It was mostly trying to avoid getting bitten!
Bug sprays don't have much effect, but we stayed covered up and it wasn't a real problem in the end. 

Prim wound the Land Cruiser through field and trees, arriving at the edge of the Orangi River (see map).
The river only fills it's potential in the high wet season, but did have some water from the December light rains.

Did you notice the animal tracks in the sand?   We'll get to those not far down the page...

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

We'll try to give you a sense of what the camp was like.  This is a "light mobile camp", and not a permanent camp like most places in the Serengeti.  It gets pulled down and, ideally, traces of human habitation disappear.

Here's what happening in the video below:  I'm standing in the field where the camp is centered.  To my left, about 15 meters away, is the Orangi River.  This is the central landmark, and the basis for our daily hikes.
     - The video begins looking upriver, and you'll see the tent where we eat, not far from the river bank.
     - The video pans left-to-right across the field.  At the 20-second mark you see a walking path
       leading to the tents where Prim, Daniel, Mark, and two other guide staff are staying.
     - At the 30-second point, you can see the tent where we sleep, with an open "bathroom" behind it.

Here's a photo of our sleeping tent, underneath a tree with a small rocky mound nearby.  Right on the Serengeti!

The first thing we did was to drop off our backpacks inside the tent, and splash our faces with water:

Looking out from our tent, we could see the eating area by the river.  That's our guide Prim, standing nearby:

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

After dropping off our backpacks, we went to the eating area where we could sit down:

From those seats, we had a nice view of the Orangi River (looking westward, or, downstream):

We walked from the eating area down into the mostly-dry river.  It rained one evening while we were here, and the water rose enough to cover most of the area within the riverbed.  This pic is looking back at the table:

Did you notice the animal tracks in the soft dirt?  Prim came down and explained that he thought of the damp earth as "the daily newspaper".  It could tell you what animals had been here, and how recently they passed through.

We were especially impressed with large, relatively fresh hippo tracks Prim identified for us! (photo below)
The hippos passed by about 30-40 meters away from where our sleeping and eating tents are located! 

Prim explained that most animals will avoid humans as much as possible.  At night, some wander through camp.

We walked over to where the guides' tents were.  In the neighboring field, seen from their tents, was a group of wildebeest!  They were gathering together, because dusk was approaching and night = predators hunting.
In the brief video, you can also hear the clank of pots & pans as the camp staff were starting to make dinner: 

While dinner was in the works, they brought potato chips and beer to snack on.  Just perfect!

At this point, the sun was setting in earnest.  We had a nice view, across the river, of the changing colors.
Two things to notice in the photo:  first, a water buffalo skull at the foot of the tree.  That's "decoration".
Second, there is a small table (look far right in the picture) closer to the edge of the river bank... 

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

...our guides made a small fire, so we moved our chairs, chips, and beer out from the tent to the riverside:

Now we were right on the river bank -- you can see the hippo tracks again in the background behind Frau A!

We were told to listen for animals coming to the water hole to drink during the night:

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

After dinner we returned to our tent, and zipped up for the night (photo: looking back at the eating area):

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

For "just a travel day" we got to see a lot.  And now we were tent camping in the Serengeti wilderness!

We will spend a few days in this camp, taking a 3-4 hour guided walk each morning and afternoon.
The guides all told us to expect fewer close-up encounters on foot - animals accept a jeep, but they will stay hundreds of meters away otherwise.  However, that doesn't mean the next blog posts will be boring... just wait.

Until then, we can say:  that evening, we heard hyenas and lions calling not too far away.  Awesome!


Tanzania Holiday 7: Ngorongoro Crater - afternoon drive and Rhotia Valley

Our morning game drive in the Ngorongoro Crater was absolutely packed with animals.
But around 13:00 we left those grassy & wooded areas where we had just seen elephants and lions.
It's time for lunch. 

Our guide drove us to the common rest & picnic area, on the edge of the crater's Lake Magadi:

The Land Cruisers lined up in the parking area - Prim (our guide) said it is packed end-to-end in high season!

Some people stayed near the cars, while others found shade under the large tree on the lakeshore.

In Arusha National Park's eating areas, we had to be mindful of blue monkeys who had become scavengers.
At this site in the Crater, the yellow-billed kites were the animals to watch out for- and far more aggressive.

The kites kept soaring overhead, and would often swoop down very fast by anyone near their car.
They were looking for any open food, and we saw them dive and snatch unguarded items with incredible speed. 

The one advantage:  we got more practice trying to photograph birds-in-flight!
(We stayed inside the Land Cruiser to eat, disappointing these aerial acrobats I'm sure.) 

In a smaller tree near the parking lot lived a number of rufous-tailed weavers:

A trio of pelicans kept soaring -- much higher than the kites (they weren't looking to scavenge).
They circled the lake perhaps 15 times before heading to the far side, to land and settle down. 

Another frequent (but lovely) scavenger here is the southern-masked weaver.  They don't have the size or athleticism of the kites, but since they're small, they hang around nearby and try to snatch up crumbs.

This one would perch on each car in turn, eyeing the people to weigh the likelihood of getting a meal.

At the far end of the lake were hippos.  As usual, one was closest to the people and keeping watch on us.

After our meal and the bird photography, we started out on the afternoon game drive.  A short time after getting underway again, we saw another lone (and, um... well endowed) elephant walking along the grassy beds.

Also on the plain, small groups of water buffalo were mostly still, trying to keep cool in the afternoon sun.

We saw some lions near a cluster of trees.  One had just emerged from the undergrowth coming towards us:

More accurately, the lion was walking towards two others lying in front of us.  They watched his approach:

As the lion drew near to the others, his head dropped and tail swished - initiating a friendly reunion perhaps?

The newcomer nuzzled the other lions for a second before plopping right down to rest beside them.

A fourth lion (looks like a male), kept to himself - his spot was farther away along the same cluster of trees.

Further along the road, we found a pair of ostriches in a mating dance -- circling and bobbing heads up & down.

Almost on the other side of the road from the ostriches was another female warthog with young:

They didn't run away as fast as the others we'd seen, so we took the chance to shoot a brief video:

These two are obviously old enough to feed themselves, rather than relying solely on milk.

As the sun began slowly to drop, we headed back across the plains of the crater's floor.

We were going back to the road that would take us up the crater rim, and back around to the park gate.

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

While waiting to pass another jeep, we pointed cameras out the window to capture the high crater wall.

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

We headed back up the road, ascending to the top of the crater...

...and once at the top, followed the road as it curved around the rim, back towards the entrance gate.

It wasn't long before we were back in Rhotia Valley, driving past the farms and scattered homes.

Before dinner on the second evening, our hosts at the lodge walked us across to the children's home.
This is an orphanage for children from the surrounding area, founded by a Dutch couple around 2008.
As we arrived, the kids were just wrapping up an all-ages soccer game (one of their favorite activities). 

We were shown around the grounds and buildings of the home.  There are three houses (for different age groups, plus two "mothers" in each house ) around a courtyard.  This is one of the houses and the playground:

Our host also showed us their classroom.  Notice that the writing on the blackboard says "Learning English"!

One thing we loved:  each child is asked to say what they want to do when they grow up and leave the home.
The "List of Life Dreams" stays posted on the bulletin board as inspiration and encouragement to the kids.
We were told some have recently, successfully, landed jobs in tourism trades like cook, clerk, or guide/driver.

The hosts are trying to make this home as self-sufficient as possible.  Part of the childrens' chores are to tend a patch in the garden, where they grow food to eat, or sell/trade in the village.  There is one challenge:  the lodge and children's home are right on the edge of the Ngorongoro forest!  Every once in a while, elephants come out and raid the garden.  The kids know to stay indoors when this happens, but the fence suffers damage and must be repaired.
Not much is going to keep an African elephant from getting a fresh meal!

For further self-sufficiency, the home raises chickens also - using the eggs or selling them to the community.

In addition, a German man donated a new, simple, inexpensive system for collecting methane from manure decomposition - it was installed recently.  The children contribute to gathering and depositing animal waste into the "well".  A gas line runs directly to a stove, meeting some of their cooking needs (remember, 24 growing kids!)

Speaking of manure... as we walked back to the lodge, we observed this dung beetle, rolling, rolling...

Before dinner, we tried to capture the last moments of daylight:

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

I'm not sure if I like the "regular" photo (above) better, or the bracketed/HDR-processed version (below).

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

From the "lobby" we looked back on the children's home, and relaxed with some drinks on our last night here.

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

We ate at one of the tables behind the sofa.  They had a fire going too (barely see the fireplace, right):

Once last chance to stand on the deck, overlooking the valley, before turning in for the night.

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

The Ngorongoro Crater was incredible.  We had high hopes, but still couldn't believe the density of animals!
From here, we will head into Serengeti National Park for both a walking safari, and multiple days of game drives. 

And finally... this was our honeymoon.  For the wedding, instead of registering for physical gifts (e.g., china, silverware, etc.), we registered different parts of this Tanzanian safari.  For this blog post, we wish to heartfully thank:

   -  Mrs J (Herr J's mom), for the game drive.  Ngorongoro was truly one of the highlights of the trip.  THANK YOU!
   -  Karen J, for the picnic lunch today.  We didn't let the birds get any of it!  THANK YOU!
   -  Landrea R, for the overnight at Rhotia Valley Lodge.  It was lovely and inspiring.  THANK YOU! 

In addition, the following guests from our wedding made a donation to the Children's Home:

   -  Martha M
   -  Brett A
   -  Mrs J (Herr J's mom)
   -  Ronald M
   -  Jaclyn F
   -  Karen J
   -  Mr. A (Frau A's dad)
   -  Teri K

Thank you all. 

We hope our friends and family enjoy the pictures and story as much as we did living it.